Viralimalai – The hill crowned with famous Subrahmanya (சுப்பிரமணியர் கோயில்) Temple, which is a prominent landmark for miles, presents a great show of beautifully banded granite gneiss. There is a famous peacock sanctuary.
Viralimalai is situated at the Trichy (திருச்சி) – Madurai (மதுரை) Highway and its about 25 kilometers from Trichy. From Pudukkottai, Viralimalai is about 40 kilometers and can be reached via Illuppur (இலுப்பூர்) on Manapparai road.
Dance tradition of Viralimalai
The temple was once a renowned seat of the Bharata natyam dance form and boasted of a separate dancer for each of the 32 adavu-s (அடவு, dance movements). Most of the inhabitants of this village can trace their descent from the Isai-vellala (மேளக்காரர், Melakarar) community.
Viralimalai has also lent its name to an exclusive kuravanji (குறவஞ்சி) dance-drama. Shyamala Balakrishnan writes: “Thanks to these families (of deva-dasi-s) the kuravanji named after Viralimalai has had an unbroken tradition of practical exposition for nearly two centuries. On Maha-siva-rathri (மகாசிவராத்திரி) night every year, till some fifteen years back, they used to play the kuravanji (குறவஞ்சி) as an all-night show to large admiring crowds of nobles, officials and ordinary folk, in front of the mandapam below the foot of the hill. Almost every deva-dasi (தேவதாசி) family of the place had a manyam (மானியம், land grant) for dance and two of them, in particular, had special additional manyam for the Viralimalai kuravanji. It was their business to keep alive the tradition of the kuravanji, which they did until they were forced out of it owing to socio-legal changes.”
The natural caverns in the hillock show signs of early human habitation. This place must have shared the fortunes of Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளுர்), which is only about six km off. The presence of an early Chozha temple lends support to the belief that Viralimalai (விராலிமலை) was a prosperous village as early as the 9th century AD.
The sides of this hill have traditionally worn a coat of non-thorny trees, mainly Wrightia (veppaalai, வெப்பாலை). Pea-fowl, in their hundreds, have inhabited this hillside. They are to be encountered even now though their numbers are much diminished.
The Subrahmanya Temple
According to the tradition, the temple owes its origin to Jnana Varodaya (ஞான வரோதயர்), who belonged to Vayalur (வயலூர்), ten km west of Tiruchi. He induced a Perambur (பேராம்பூர்) chief, Azhagiya-manavaalan (அழகிய மனவாளன்), to build it. This was in the 15th century. In later times, other chiefs expanded the temple.
Arunagiri, the great saint who is believed to have lived in the middle of the 15th century, visited Viralimalai and sang in praise of the God here, expressing some of his mystic experiences.
The deity presiding over this temple is offered by way of neyvedhya every evening at the day’s last puja, the most curious of objects: a country cigar (சுருட்டுக் களஞ்சி) suruttu kalanji).
The Temple Architecture:
The ascent to the top of the hill is made by a series of flights commencing at an entrance close to the vahana-mandapam (வாகன மண்டபம்). To the north of the first landing, about half-way up, there is a natural cavern in which there is now a shrine containing a lingam, an Amman, Ganesa, etc. At the top is mandapam, from which one enters the main gopuram facing south. More steps lead to the northern prakaram. The idol of Sri Subrahmanya has six faces and twelve hands. The God is seated on a peacock, with the two Amman-s, Valli and Devasena, standing on either side
The mandapam-s are of the Madurai style, and the one on the extreme east affords a panoramic view of the country round as far as the Tiruchirappalli rock. Some panels containing dancing figures in bas-relief, evidently belonging to a ruined early Chozha temple at Kodumbalur (கொடும்பாளூர்), have been built into the walls of the northern prakaram. The two lion-pillars in the vahana-mandapam at the foot of the hill are of the Pallava type, and probably belonged to the Ainthali (ஐந்தளி) or Aivar-koil (ஐவர் கோயில்) at Kodumbalur.
The principal festivals are the Thai Poosam (தைப்பூசம்) held in January-February, Masi-mahabhisekam (மாசி மஹாபிஷேகம்) held in February-March, Panguni-uththiram (பங்குனி உத்திரம்) in March-April, Vaisakham (விசாகம்) in May-June, Nava-rathri (நவராத்திரி) in September-October, and the Sura-samharam (சூரசம்ஹாரம்) in November-December, and are attended by great crowds from other parts of the State and from the Tiruchirappalli district. Many of the pilgrims bring kavadi-s (காவடி), containing the milk and sugar, which are poured over the idol. The place is a favourite spot for the performance of vows, especially shaving of the head.
Saint Arunagiri-nathar (அருணகிரிநாதர்) and Viralimalai:
Tradition holds that the deity of Viralimalai Murugan (விராலிமலை முருகன்), appeared before a pilgrim at the temple-town of Vayalur and so overwhelmed him, as to bring him to Viralimalai, where he composed a set of sixteen songs of great metrical skill, included in the anthology known as the Thirup-pugazh (திருப்புகழ்). The author, who belonged to the 15th century and who had earlier led the life of a libertine, thence became famous as Arunagiri-nathar, the great saint and exponent of Saiva-siddhantha. Whatever be the truth the tradition, Arunagiri-nathar’s songs are one of the precious legacies of Tamil literature.Apart from their devotion, Arunagiri-nathar’s songs contain a vivid description of Viralimalai and it’s surrounding. A stanza from one of these may be translated as: ” In konadu (கோநாடு), where beetles haunt the kadappai (கடப்பை) and surap-punnai (சூரப்புன்னை) flowers for their nectar crowding the woods, and where the hum of their flight suggests the ragas desi (தேசி) and namakriyai (நாமக்கிரியை); and where herons hunt in the stream-fed lakes for the aaral fish find where agricultural fields abound, lies Viralimalai”.
The following are the immortal songs of the Saint, sung in praise of the God Murugan of Viralimalai:
About the origin of the temple
The origin of this temple is ascribed to Jnana Varodaya a native of Vayalur (வயலூர்), six miles to the west of Tiruchirappalli. When he was a little boy, he played the truant one-day to escape being flogged at school and hid himself behind the idol of Subrahmanya in the temple at Vayalur. There be remained shut up for the night unseen by the temple servants, when the God Subrahmanya appeared to him and blessed him with the gift of poesy.
Next morning his parents discovered him in the temple and were delighted at his newly acquired talents. Sometime afterwards, the God told the boy in a vision of his wish to have a temple built of him on the top of the hill at Viralimalai. Jnana Varodaya communicated the God’s commands to the chief Azhagiya-manavaalan (அழகிய-மணவாளன்) of Perambur (பேராம்பூர்).
Azhagiya also had a vision of the God, who appeared before him in answer to a hymn of the boy, but the vision was so dazzling that the chief lost his eyesight for a while. The chief built the temple, which was later extended by the Kumaravadi (குமாரவாடி) and Marungapuri (மருங்காபுரி) chiefs. Laudatory songs are still sung in praise of the Perambur chiefs during one of the temple festivals.
About the peculiar neyvedhya of country cigar
Karuppa-muthu Pillai (கருப்பமுத்துப் பிள்ளை), a minister of one of the Kumaravadi chiefs, was in the habit of visiting the temple every Friday, but on one occasion, a tank had burst after heavy rains and the Mamundi (மாமுண்டி) stream had become unaffordable so that Karuppa-muthu who was stranded on the bank was face with the prospect of having to spend a night without food and, what was most grievous to him, without cigars. The God, however, appeared before him in human form gave him a cigar and led him to the temple.
The grateful devotee ordered that henceforth cigars should be offered to the God everyday. The God was pleased with this native but sincere act of devotion, and accepted the unusual offering. One of the Tondaiman (தொண்டைமான்) rulers stopped this offering, as being inappropriate in a temple of Subrahmanya. But, the story goes, the God appeared to him in a dream with an emaciated body, and instructed him to restore the offering, which the Raja did. This offering is still continued.
The deity presiding over this temple is offered by way of neyvedhya every evening at the day’s last puja, the most curious of objects: a country cigar suruttu kalanji (சுருட்டுக் களஞ்சி).